The Computer Industry Is Making Us Crazy

We had a meeting yesterday with the chair of the CS department, who wanted to know about our computing needs. Sadly, she just meant that she wanted to know what computing things we would like our students to be taught, because my real computing need, as I said to Kate last night, is "I need the entire computer industry to operate on a different paradigm than it does now, because the current system is making everyone miserable."

I was half joking, but not entirely. I genuinely am annoyed at the whole way the industry operates, because planned obsolescence means that I am constantly being forced to "upgrade" things that worked perfectly well, and having to re-learn things that I knew how to do before, because the latest upgrade eliminated or at least altered some function I had grown accustomed to. As a result, I'm constantly saddled with computers and computer-based devices that don't quite do what I want them to the way I want them to, which elevates my baseline daily irritation level.

The fundamental problem here is the way the computer industry operates: they make money by breaking things that used to work.

OK, not literally breaking them, though I have my suspicions about Windows Update, but the whole business model of the software industry breaks down if they make something that works well and continues to work. If you make a word processor that does everything people want a word processor to do, then you get to sell one copy per computer (in an ideal world), after which, you're out of business. If it works, and continues working, nobody ever needs to buy another product from you.

This obviously doesn't keep software company executives supplied with the cash they need to buy sports franchises and gold-plated hot tubs, so some way has to be found to get more cash out of people who already have a working product. So you add a few features, necessary or not, and roll out a new version. Then you tweak the file format a little bit, so the formatting gets a little wonky in the older version, and roll out a new new version. Then you stop supporting the old version. Eventually, all the people you sold a copy to at the beginning of the process have to buy a new copy, because their old software, while it works just fine for what they need it to do locally, can't quite talk to anybody else's version.

Repeat that for the spreadsheet, and the web browser, and the presentation software, and the PDF reader, and the photo editor, and on and on and on.

This is a great employment program for people who design and sell computer software, but it makes the ordinary user experience a constant low-grade irritation. I shut my computer down Sunday night, and let Windows install updates. The first message I got on restarting was "Windows needs to install updates, please click here." The computer in the classroom where I teach has been begging me to install the latest Firefox updates for a couple of weeks. Adobe wants to update something on my tablet, I'm not sure what, but it keeps popping up plaintive little dialogue boxes.

None of these programs are broken in the sense of not functioning properly-- they all do more or less what I want them to. Every now and then, they get a little wonky about something, but nothing too major. Whatever the upgrade is going to fix is much less irritating than the constant barrage of messages asking me to upgrade this or that.

And then there are the major upgrades. I'm still not sure where to find all the features we used to use on Excel in the intro labs, thanks to the comprehensive redesign of Office a couple of years back (if I want to do anything serious, I use SigmaPlot. A copy which is probably two versions behind by now), though I've more or less gotten back up to speed with Word and PowerPoint. I've got a Palm that I use as an e-book reader, which I can no longer synch with my computer, because it doesn't work with Vista (Kate's still running XP, and puts stuff on it for me).

I'm constantly surrounded by technology, which offers all sorts of wonderful and convenient features. None of which quite work they way I want them to, or even the way they used to a few years ago. As a result, I spend an inordinate amount of my time frustrated at the stupidity of something or another, and so do most of the people around me. Everybody starts from a baseline of mild irritation, which makes it no wonder that any discussion of serious issues turns so angry, so quickly. There's a direct line from Bill Gates to Glenn Beck-- if the normal operation of modern technology weren't so pointlessly frustrating, it wouldn't be quite so easy to whip people into a frenzy of rage.

Sadly, I don't have a brilliant idea for a replacement paradigm that would allow people in the software industry to continue to feed their families. I wish somebody would find one, though, because the one we have is making us all crazy.

Also, get the hell off of my lawn.

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So you add a few features, necessary or not, and roll out a new version. Then you tweak the file format a little bit, so the formatting gets a little wonky in the older version, and roll out a new new version. Then you stop supporting the old version.

And this is why I prefer LaTeX to Word for any serious writing. There may come a time when I want to look at something I wrote ten or fifteen years ago, which is not a problem in LaTeX but can be a problem in Word. For instance, I cannot access the electronic version of my bachelor's thesis, because it was written in Word version 3 on a Mac Plus (there is also the problem of hardware compatibility: no more SCSI interfaces that would let me read the hard drive it's on).

Note also that this process feeds the need for people to upgrade hardware every 3-5 years. The new version with all of these wonderful features that are of great value to maybe 0.1% of users takes up so much memory and disk space that it won't even run on the old machine, so you buy a new machine only to find that some other piece of old software won't run on the new machine. Apple is guilty of this, too. I replaced my vintage 2004 MacBook last fall but found that I have to keep the old one around because, among other things, the scanner software (an EPSON printer/scanner of about the same age as the old laptop) doesn't run on the new MacBook.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

Oh for the days when the institution purchased an IBM mainframe and the friendly IBM techs taught everyone how to work the dumb terminals. The techs handled all the updates, upgrades, tweaked the system, corrected errors and, more often than not, made apologies along the lines of; 'the system can't do that but we are working on it. It should be available in a few years'.

And everyone using the system was expected to attend a monthly meeting that always started with your getting less CPU time than you needed and a dire threat that the whole thing would crash and take a month to get running again if people didn't stop working around the very sensible protocols.

Ah ... yes, the good old days when low level users submitted the program by punch card and got your result in a day or so. Assuming the system was up. Monochrome monitors, shared dot-matrix printers that sounded like rock crushers, memory capacity measured and allocated by the kilobyte, hard drives the size of refrigerators, 2AM computing so you could get the memory and CPU capacity, calling the tech to load the tape, using a forklift to 'reconfigure' the system.

Paying IBM a fairly substantial chunk of change for the privilege and feeling like you were riding the technology wave.

I see that Eric beat me to the LaTeX comment. I agree in general, and further add that I do not like anything important to be in any sort of proprietary binary format.

Most of my work time is spent in emacs, which is older than I am, and I like the updates in all the versions I have been around to see(20-23). I have also noticed surprisingly few regressions in most of the other programs I use (linux with kde)

The solution to your problems is to switch to open source solutions...
*puts on preaching hat*....*gets tackled by security*

see, http://en.windows7sins.org. Stallmann preaches better than I do anyway.

The computer industry is approximately 30 years old.

There will be changes for quite a while longer.

By Kenneth G. Cavness (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

There are two assumptions that you make:
1) I must use proprietary file formats
2) I must use proprietary software

The first is very straightforward. If nobody but your software supplier can read and write the files you need, your data is held hostage by this supplier. Generally, the end-user license agreement says they can terminate your license at will. With fun licensing things like Windows/Office Genuine Advantage (which periodically makes sure your software is "genuine" and can never ever possibly get false positives for Pirate, (search for that fun time the servers went down)), and Activation (mother, may I use my legally-obtained software? Have I installed so many new devices on my PC or had to replace my motherboard, and may no longer use the PC and must get Microsoft's permission to continue using my OS to get things done?), licensing servers (FlexLM was the bane of my existence when I was a sysadmin) which may or may not be working or available, licensing checks on what your ethernet card is (don't replace your ethernet card if you're using Mathematica!), or licensing checks that just don't work because the programmers can't be bothered to do this inane check right (I'm looking at *you* Maple!) or which require the *documentation* CD to be present in the CD-ROM drive (how this is supposed to work, Matlab Student Edition, on a netbook is beyond me), and so on. If others can read and write the file formats with the same fidelity as the software you were using, you have an out if you need to get work done and the software fails for some reason (or, if you need to do something they didn't anticipate you ever needing to do, if you're a programmer). Like many governments have realized, open and patent royalty-free specifications are a requirement.

The second is less straightforward. Free and Open Source software, like proprietary software, continually releases new versions. Generally (not always; there are periodic pushes to increase efficiency and reduce bloat in both major Linux desktop camps) they have new features and are not faster and smaller (though also not necessarily slower and bigger). With Free and Open Source Software (particularly Free software, as the "Free" means end-users' freedom, not price) you *can*, if you so choose, continue maintaining the software past when it leaves support (6 months for regular Ubuntu releases, 5 years (I think) for Long-Term Support releases). Of course, like with cars, you don't necessarily have to be the one to do the maintenance; if enough people are willing to put up money to maintain the software or if you're rich enough, you can hire some programmers to do it for you. If FOSS ever really takes off, I expect this mechanic-analogous business model to flourish.

I can only third the LaTeX comments above. I'll add that with LaTeX, you can take full advantage of modern distributed revision control systems. My dissertation was written in LaTeX, spread across several files (of LaTeX; since LaTeX pulls in external documents (PDFs, images, etc., I had symlinks to all of the relevant projects so that everything was always kept at the latest automatically. I'm a huge fan of automation because I can predict better where it'll screw up than where I will ;)

That said, even LaTeX sucks. It'd be nice to have an updated version with more modern amenities. Sure, they've been kludged into classes and packages, but it'd be nice to have some of the learning that's been developed rolled into a new release.

The issue with FOSS is - continuity. MS, love it, hate it, I do not care, has been around and producing continuously interoperable software for 30 years. Yes, as Chad pointed out, the formating will go out of whack in time, but your word 2.0 file can still be read and used as starting point for a rewrite. I can still have data entry machines running Office 97 for people filling two spread sheets a month, and read the files into my 2007. For the highly advanced user maintaining their own FOSS is an option, for the commercial user, especially those without dedicated IT staff, it would be a nightmare. As expensive as buying Office 2007 for a whole company is, it's still cheaper than retraining everyone to use OpenOffice. And hope that OpenOffice will stay around to justify the training by future savings on upgrade cycles.

"MS, love it, hate it, I do not care, has been around and producing continuously interoperable software for 30 years. "

Except when it doesn't. See 95 series->XP and XP->Vista/7 and the apps that stopped working.

The real solution is virtualization and keeping the working software around. (That, and Linux isn't a slacker in this regard either; I'm still running old proprietary software e.g. Loki games; most of my software is Free and free, so I am usually running the latest version of it.)

"Yes, as Chad pointed out, the formating will go out of whack in time, but your word 2.0 file can still be read and used as starting point for a rewrite."

Funny you mention this; I distinctly recall saving the text documents that were corrupted such that Office was unable to read them, using Linux.

"For the highly advanced user maintaining their own FOSS is an option, for the commercial user, especially those without dedicated IT staff, it would be a nightmare."

Unless you go for the mechanic paradigm, like I described.

"As expensive as buying Office 2007 for a whole company is, it's still cheaper than retraining everyone to use OpenOffice."

So you say. I'd argue that the transition 2003->OpenOffice is much easier than 2003->2007. (That, and Excel gets the answers wrong; if you use spreadsheets for statistics, you should be using gnumeric!)

(Also, you can still run MS Office (and other Windows apps) under Linux with wine and Crossover Office. And then there's virtualization.)

Mu wrote: "As expensive as buying Office 2007 for a whole company is, it's still cheaper than retraining everyone to use OpenOffice."

I join Joseph in calling BS on this one. From what (mercifully) little I have seen of Office 2007, it's a major change from earlier versions. So much so that I had trouble helping my mother with it, because the features I knew from Excel 2003/4 were completely rearranged into other menus and I had trouble finding them. Why did MS rearrange the menus to that extent? I haven't heard a better reason than "because they can".

There may be a good reason for you to stay with Microsoft. That would be because some IT person at Union has made that choice for you. It takes a lot more effort to use a different OS when the local IT gods have decreed that Windows is thine operating system and thou shalt have no other operating systems before them. Microsoft inherited the position expressed in the old saying "Nobody got fired for buying IBM."

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

None of these programs are broken in the sense of not functioning properly-- they all do more or less what I want them to. Every now and then, they get a little wonky about something, but nothing too major. Whatever the upgrade is going to fix is much less irritating than the constant barrage of messages asking me to upgrade this or that.

With Windows and Firefox most of those updates are security fixes and something *will* break if you don't install them, particularly if it is a multi-user machine.

Personally, I don't mind the constant updates, possibly because I am a geek and like to have all the latest features. Almost all the software I use apart from the OS is open source, so it is not as if the updates cost anything and it's usually just a minute or two of downloading.

However, I do object to the "update tax" that you have to pay to keep up with the latest versions of the OS. Since I am a Mac user, the cycle of how long vendors continue to support old versions of the OS tends to be a lot shorter than in the Windows world, since there is an assumption that all Mac users have the latest shiny gizmos. I guess I need to finally give in and go 100% Linux.

There may be a good reason for you to stay with Microsoft. That would be because some IT person at Union has made that choice for you. It takes a lot more effort to use a different OS when the local IT gods have decreed that Windows is thine operating system and thou shalt have no other operating systems before them.

There's that, and also the fact that I need to work with documents generated by students, almost all of whom use Windows machines. And the open-source alternatives don't quite handle regular Office documents correctly. Since I try to exclusively deal with class documents electronically, that means I need to have Office. Put that together with the fact that ITS supports only the latest versions of Windows programs, and, well,...

I would be perfectly happy to switch to a different set of tools, if I could mandate that everyone else switch with me. That's not remotely realistic, though, so I'm stuck with Windows.

With Windows and Firefox most of those updates are security fixes and something *will* break if you don't install them, particularly if it is a multi-user machine.

I do install them eventually, but it's always a disruption. And there are few things that piss me off more than getting the "Important updates MUST be installed!" message only to find that it's an update to IE, which I don't even use.

Amen. It isn't just software. The whole business became
too big for its britches. Too many people put too much
trust in the web - a local town account was hacked for
half a million bucks.

By joel rice (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

What part of "small organization without dedicated IT staff" is so hard to understand that you come back with

Also, you can still run MS Office (and other Windows apps) under Linux with wine and Crossover Office. And then there's virtualization.

Just to put it into perspective, if it takes me 4 h to install Linux on a machine, hunt down drivers, get everything configured and get apps to run I'm cheaper off buying a basic Dell that's plug and play.

False equivalence, Mu. You can buy that basic Dell with Linux preinstalled. And even if you are installing from scratch, you can do a lot of that in parallel: the drivers you need for any given machine are almost certainly the drivers you need for all of your machines, so you find them once and put them on all of your machines. You can run most of the install scripts from a single machine with remote login windows to the target machines. If the driver installation does not require a restart, you can even do it without interrupting the person on whose desk the machine actually sits.

Compare Windows. I know of software which allows remote access to the Windows desktop, but the version I've seen requires the desktop user to log out in order for the remote user to log in. Also, plug and play is one of those things that works beautifully until it doesn't, and while Microsoft have been improving on that front, PnP still fails way too often.

Show us numbers. Real numbers that include downtime and security costs. Anti-virus and firewall software is a must on Windows machines, but it typically isn't free.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

"if it takes me 4 h to install Linux on a machine, hunt down drivers, get everything configured and get apps to run"

That's a big *if* since it doesn't take nearly that long. (Practically) all of the drives on a Linux system are supplied by the Linux distribution. As is the software, and by far more software is available through the package manager (in Ubuntu, you can save and load lists of package choices, so you can have quick way of getting the same set of packages set up for e.g. getting a PC back from a dead hard drive; there are other tools for setting up large masses of Linux desktops) Nothing out of the ordinary needs to be configured out of the box (i.e. nothing beyond e.g. telling your mail client your login information). This is at least on the same level (and perhaps higher; e.g. printers don't need to be set up, just plug in e.g. your HP printer and it's automatically set up and ready to go; been that way since before Vista) If you need a codec or plugin, you'll be prompted when you access media that requires it.

Basically, your post boils down to a lack of practical Linux experience. It echoes very nicely the experience when setting up Windows from scratch, however. Were I nearby, I'd offer to give you a hand, but I can only offer to help you over the forums here since I'm guessing you're far away. :) I'm happy to answer any questions you may have on how to do things under Linux.

"cheaper off buying a basic Dell that's plug and play."

You can buy a Linux box that is more plug-and-play than Windows. Places like System76 and ZaReason provide real support (big Windows vendors' support is subject to Microsoft's marketing incentives; see a recently-posted Comes v Microsoft document for an instance of HP killing off a Linux product line to get Microsoft's marketing incentives). If you must buy from a big Windows vendor, though, they (e.g. Dell and HP) offer some Linux models in some markets.

"There's that, and also the fact that I need to work with documents generated by students, almost all of whom use Windows machines. And the open-source alternatives don't quite handle regular Office documents correctly. Since I try to exclusively deal with class documents electronically, that means I need to have Office. Put that together with the fact that ITS supports only the latest versions of Windows programs, and, well,..."

I hear you, although OpenOffice and gnumeric will run just fine on Windows. When OpenOffice fails for sending Word documents, I still have Office 97 (and 2003 and 2007, thanks to being forced to pay Microsoft every semester during graduate school) in Crossover Office (I also have Windows under a VM if even that fails, although I've not had such problems so far). I did use OpenOffice exclusively internally within a large tech company, exchanging documents with others using Microsoft's proprietary formats (which is ultimately the reason for the inter-operation failures you mention).

Although I understand your perspective (I hear it rather a lot, unsurprisingly, given how everyone's spent decades tying themselves and digging themselves deeper and deeper into single application and OS providers), I do have to chuckle a bit. I've basically been told by professors to suck it up and buy a hundred-dollar OS to use a hundred-dollar office suite that I don't need except to talk with the professor and use the required campus software (fortunately, they were wrong, but then Microsoft came up with the Campus Software Assurance program which forced me to pony up each *semester* whether I wanted or needed the software or not!) So, long story short, I find it kind of amusing after that to find a professor hesitant to require his students to use a free (both as in cost as well as in rights) office suite. ;)

Joseph, I readily admit to a lack of RECENT linux experience, I stopped playing with is some years ago, as I have with most "free" software after the Thunderbird fiasco. Still running Firefox as default browser so.
But my main point is not really technical but purely business oriented. License cost are really not an important factor in my purchasing decisions. Training cost and support needed are. And since XP sp2 my need for OS support has pretty much gone to zero (thanks for being able to banish users to lower priorities) and all employees we've hired in the last 10 years have been MS "pre-trained", I've yet to come across someone who knows OO and linux but not MS.

So, long story short, I find it kind of amusing after that to find a professor hesitant to require his students to use a free (both as in cost as well as in rights) office suite.

My time is not free, and I try not to behave as if my students' time is free. Time that I spend installing, learning, and futzing around with a new software package is time I could be doing something more useful with my life, like playing BumperStars on the computer with SteelyKid. I assume that my students have similar preferences, and thus do not force them to use any software that they don't already have.

I don't stop anybody from using OpenOffice (though the formatting of papers in it occasionally gets mangled), but I'm not going to require it, because I figure my students have other things they would rather be doing than navigating a new office suite. The path of least time and effort for everyone is for me to use Windows, which will correctly handle documents prepared in the software that the majority of my students are already using. And,a s a bonus, they and I can get IT support on campus, which is not possible with Linux (at least not without impinging on the time of my Linux-using colleagues).

Add to that the fact that most publishers won't take manuscripts in anything but Word (and I'm sure Prof. Orzel wants to write the sequel "How to Teach Physics to Your Cat") so there's that ;-).

For me, what's really interesting about this isn't the annoyance factor, which is high enough, but the ecological factor - all that electronic waste, the energy used in manufacture is incredibly destructive. Planned obsolescence has a really high cost.

Sharon

"I don't stop anybody from using OpenOffice"

This I totally applaud. Thank you for being unlike the unnamed other professors (though I am still annoyed at having had to pay Microsoft to attend school).

I really, really, *really* didn't intend to be snarky at the end, although I readily see that it's possible to read the excerpted quote that way. That's why I tried to put in the backstory, to forestall this possibility. I quite possibly/probably failed. :(

Ultimately, continuing the Linux/Windows and MSOffice/OpenOffice conversation past here is best done over a beer or coffee.

The point that you raise in the article, however, is quite valid, but inevitable in proprietary software. If everybody's tied to proprietary software, this inevitability is doubly inevitable. *shrug* Perhaps users can convince profit-motivated proprietary software vendors to do the right thing for their users and the environment, but the companies are ultimately solely obligated to do whatever gives their shareholders the most money within the constraints of the law. As long as users keep buying and not demanding their freedom, this will continue. You gotta push back, or nothing will happen. Change starts with us, or be the change you want to see.

I would be perfectly happy to switch to a different set of tools, if I could mandate that everyone else switch with me. That's not remotely realistic, though, so I'm stuck with Windows.

The operating system is irrelevant. To paraphrase, "it's the data, Stupid." In that light you can mandate OpenOffice -- the price is well within even a student's budget. So are ASCII editors (obviously). LaTeX is free, as is Lyx. MatLab, Maple, etc. are all reasonably portable so they don't matter (and as far as MatLab is concerned, Octave is also free.)

There aren't many serious obstacles to doing everything important for instructional purposes in software libre independent of the platform in use (Apple, Microsoft, Linux, Solaris, whatever.)

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

The software industry has only two choices. Stick with the 6502 based Apple II or other machine of that era and never break anything or maintain backward compatibility and provide emulation indefinitely and pray that the layer upon layer of complexity doesn't kill them. Windows XP could run the original VisiCalc, but allowing that left myriad security holes in a barely maintainable system.

As far as I can tell, it's a no brainer. Maybe you have a business model for selling antique machines for people who just never want to upgrade, but it would be like dealing with religious fundamentalists who pick and choose their favorite features from the past.

Open software helps in that it uses open data formats, but it too is subject to change. A few years back I tried to make a version of GTK and ran into incompatibility after incompatibility in ATK, Cairo, R and dozens of other things I had never even heard of. Sure, Open Office and GIMP are going to be around for the forseeable future, but they too are subject to progress. Didn't Firefox just give up on MacOS X less than 10.5?

It isn't so much that the software industry is a bunch of greed heads. They just tend to be more forward looking than many of us would like.

You may not like the forced patching Chad, but if we (being any large IT group just about anywhere) don't put a forced deadline on the patch installations, the users will NEVER patch their fucking computers. Guess who gets beaten up when and unpatched machine gets infected and takes down a network? We do, not the stupid end user who day after day, for months on end, chose to ignore the little bubble telling him/her to let updates install.

I don't object to updates that genuinely fix problems. I do object to being nagged to install updates that turn out to be the next version of a program that I don't use. I really object to things like the classroom computer that decided it needed to restart to complete the installation of an update in the middle of my class a couple of years ago.

The paradigm is surprisingly obvious, as is the fix. The root cause of the problem is that software IS NOT SOLD. You do not own the software (unlike, say, your shoes), you purchase a License to use it.

And the license comes riddled with terms like "you already know and we dont care that it doesnt work".

giving the user (victim!) no recourse, because they agreed that the software not only doesnt have to work, but its OK if it ruins everything too.

If, OTOH, we actually BOUGHT our copy of the software, then all of the consumer protection legislation (enjoyed by civilised countries) suddenly comes into play, and we really CAN demand our money back if its a POS.

$0.10, gratis :)

"Time that I spend installing, learning, and futzing around with a new software package is time I could be doing something more useful with my life, like playing BumperStars on the computer with SteelyKid."

Of course, the whole blog post is about how using MS Word and friends force you to spend time installing, learning and futzing around... Learning a different software package and learning a new version of Word seems to not be all that much difference as far as effort is concerned.

I just use LaTeX and open file formats and don't worry about this kind of stuff.

How about requiring your students to submit papers in PDF format? That way they can create them in Word or LaTeX or whatever, and you don't need Word to read them.

The reason I don't believe LaTeX proselytizers is that they seem incapable of explaining why there system is worthwhile without abandoning the English language in favor of IT gobbledygook.

How about requiring your students to submit papers in PDF format? That way they can create them in Word or LaTeX or whatever, and you don't need Word to read them.

If I had a good way to mark up PDF, I would seriously consider it. I don't, though, so I prefer a format that I can edit to add comments on the writing for grading purposes.

The reason I don't believe LaTeX proselytizers is that they seem incapable of explaining why there system is worthwhile without abandoning the English language in favor of IT gobbledygook.

LaTeX is superior to Word because you can easily insert equations into the text without having to futz around with separate equation-editing tools and drop-down menus. You type the equations directly into the file as you're going along. If you're doing any kind of technical writing, there' no other tool that comes close to being as convenient as LaTeX.

It doesn't offer any significant advantages for non-technical writing, though.

Jamie @ 25:

Well, my problem with the "forced patches" is that *I didn't ask for them, and I don't know where they are coming from*. And the IT department is constantly telling us, "Don't just click on things that want permission to install, that's how viruses and trojans get into the system". So if I don't install patches that appear without my asking for them, I am a Bad Person for not keeping my system up to date, but if I do install what I thought was a patch but was actually malware, I am a Bad Person for getting my machine infected.[1]

It might be reasonable to expect me, and people like me, to keep up if we could expect, on a regular schedule (like, say, the first of every month), to receive a single update package that we would know the provenance of, and could install with some assurance that it wouldn't take over the machine for the forces of evil. But this constant stream of crap updates makes me have to decide on a daily basis "is this legit, or is it malware?", and to be honest, the safest route seems to me to be to assume malware and ditch it until told otherwise. If the IT people are so keen on my machine being up to date, then I will periodically take the machine to them and let *them* do it.

[1] I just got burned by a legitimate-looking "update" about a month ago, and I'm still a bit ticked off about it.

Personally the first thing I always do after install is disable auto-update which throws me into a rage every time I run into it.

I only update extremely rarely, mostly when service packs come out for windows and I've never had any problems because of that. I did have to fix problems for others though when auto update messed up windows.

I am however very well versed with computers and have always full control of my system, for people who don't know much about security updating regularly is probably the way to go.

Personally I believe governments should team up with universities to develop one international open source operating operating system for office computers.

There are two main reasons to go this route:
1. security
2. cost savings

Such a system should be designed with security in mind and it's goal should be maximum modularity and the ability to be serviced indefinitely. It should be as lean as possible providing only the very basic services and secure interface between hardware and software. There should be a standard interface specification. Computers are fast enough so that additional overhead due to security and standarization would not be a problem. between client software and driver layer. When new hardware comes around only drivers would be updated, with new drivers providing exactly the same interface and therefore seamlessly integrating with all the other software packages.

If the IT people are so keen on my machine being up to date, then I will periodically take the machine to them and let *them* do it.

Even that, IMO, is asking too much, especially if it's a desktop system. If the IT people want users to keep their machines up to date, the IT department should specify an operating system which allows them to install the updates remotely. Or, as you suggested, Microsoft should issue updates on a predictable schedule, so that you can plan around it. Windows seems to have enough vulnerabilities that it would have to be weekly rather than monthly, but I'm still OK with that.

Apple handles their updates in a much more user-friendly fashion. You know that the updates coming through the Software Update system come from Apple. You can see what components are due for an update, and whether a restart will be required. Most importantly, you can choose to defer the update to a time that's convenient for you, instead of running into Chad's experience @31 of a forced restart in mid-class because of a software update.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Feb 2010 #permalink

Break your shackles as a Microsoft serf and go open source. Doesn't completely get rid of the new and improved nonsense but makes it endurable.

By Bruce W. Fowle… (not verified) on 11 Feb 2010 #permalink

I'd just like to point out that Windows isn't the ONLY piece of software that gets patched on any given machine. Every application that is installed must also be done, and every vendor is on their own schedule. We don't like it either.

HTH, HAND.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a simple application in possession of a stable feature set must be in want of an upgrade."

Open Source ain't gonna fix that. As long as somebody's trying to make a living off it, the above axiom holds. As soon as O/S software starts making serious commercial inroads, it will succumb to upgraditis just the same.

Hell, half the F/OSS stuff I use seems to get frequent upgrades simply because the developers want to play with new toys. The other half doesn't get upgrades at all (even for major bugs) and eventually stops working because it's not compatible with its host environment any more.

F/OSS is not a panacea.

"here's that, and also the fact that I need to work with documents generated by students, almost all of whom use Windows machines."

You do have the option of requiring submission in a standard format like RTF.

"[LaTeX] doesn't offer any significant advantages for non-technical writing, though."

It separates form and content. You write your text without having to care what it will look like. Elements are marked according to what they are (emphasis; subsection headline; quotation) rather than how they should be displayed (bold; 14pt small caps; italic, 8pt margin extension). Tools like Word and OpenOffice tries to offer that as well, but falls short; you can't really use them without caring about such things.

I came for the math, but this is why I stay with LaTeX for most of my writing. I would had gone seriously nuts had I had to write my thesis in OOoffice or Word rather than LaTeX.

no one is forcing you to upgrade things that you feel work perfectly or good enough. I'm still using MS Office 2003, Windows XP (released in 2001), and Adobe CS2 (2005). Software is very complex and hard to get "perfect". Updates include security patches, bug fixes and sometimes enhancements. Nearly all software that can update itself can be configured to not automatically update. Check your help file.

So you add a few features, necessary or not, and roll out a new version. Then you tweak the file format a little bit, so the formatting gets a little wonky in the older version, and roll out a new new version. Then you stop supporting the old version

Different file formats drive technicians crazy too.

Window is not only piece of softwear that gets patched on any given machine.I don,t like it

By , scratch cards (not verified) on 07 Sep 2010 #permalink